#StudyAbroadBecause more students of color deserve to see the world

Dr. Jessie Voigts's picture

Stephane is a junior at Tufts University currently studying International Relations and Community Health. She is passionate about global health and community health interventions. Between perfecting her ramen noodles recipes and studying for exams, Steph is interested in the role that peace and security plays in women's health and their educational pursuits. Currently, she is studying abroad in Santiago, Chile and traveling to other South American countries. When she is not watching Netflix, she’s most likely eating Nutella. 

Stephane Alexandre: #StudyAbroadBecause more students of color deserve to see the world

What motivated your decision to go abroad? How/why did you choose where to go?
With my last year of college frighteningly on the horizon, I did not know if I would get another chance to travel abroad for half a year! I was supposed to go abroad in England the spring of my junior year, but I would not be able to fulfill my distribution requirements in time to graduate. I wanted to study abroad but I definitely wanted to graduate. So I lost hope and half-promised myself that I would travel as soon as I could! However, the Dean of Abroad Services informed me of the Tufts in Chile Program. Chile ended up being a great option, because I needed to practice Spanish in a Spanish-speaking country for my International Relations degree. I suddenly became very motivated to take advantage of this opportunity. Soon, I was packing my life into two suitcases and printing my boarding pass to Santiago!

What was your experience like? What is your favorite memory? What were some challenges you observed?
I am still experiencing Santiago. I am in awe everyday that Chileans live so close to the Andes and get to see them daily! I am learning new things every day: learning to forgive myself when I make grammatical mistakes in chilenismo, learning to work in group projects at my new university, and learning to nod and smile after my host mom offers me a 5th serving of bread.

One challenge that I have observed in my traveling is adjusting to the weather. I can almost guarantee that I can work around every other obstacle. Yet many times, I have had to put on my raincoat and boots and push myself because I have limited time in a region and I want to see explore as many places as possible! Additionally, I often wonder “How do I efficiently bring this back with me?” I know that, nationally, many students of color do not study abroad and I want to bring back memories, stories, and pictures to encourage students like me to take advantage to study abroad and to see the world for themselves.

My favorite memory is traveling to Chiloe with my friend a few weeks ago. Our hostel owner in Castro suggested that we hike the Muelle de las Almas and we knew we couldn’t miss it! Muelle de las Almas means Spring Souls and it is south of the National Park of Chiloe. Conveniently located near the Pacific Ocean, it is an enormous green field curved with hills where horses and sheep like to graze. It is like walking in a postcard! I still have many memories to make here, however, and since we are going to Machu Picchu, I suspect it will be my new favorite memory (it has been on my list for years!). One of the many great benefits of traveling is the constant molding of your perspective of the world and of your ideas!

Stephane Alexandre: #StudyAbroadBecause more students of color deserve to see the world

What skills did you develop from your experience? Do you feel changed from your experience abroad?
This is such a difficult question because I feel like I am learning new life lessons every day! One of the most integral skills that I am developing is being flexible and patient. Living in a new country and speaking a new language is a unique experience and every day I am learning to be patient. When our hostel owner told us our hike of Muelle de las Almas would take 20 minutes, I was thrilled. And when that hike took us 2.5 hours, we had to be flexible and patient. When I learned that I had to sign up for classes (in person, at each department AND across two campuses) and attend class on that same day, I had to be flexible and patient. And still, many times I forget to be patient with myself or I am too committed to set plans, so this is a lesson that I am learning and re-learning everyday.

I am also learning to research excursions more efficiently. Traveling out of the comfort of the U.S. bubble, I am learning to adequately research new places to see, what is in and out of season, and prioritize excursions that my budget allow. Yes, traveling means being intentional about your expenses and actually having a budget (gasp!). No, it is not as painful as the movies make it out to be. You will not get it perfectly right your first travel. However, you will learn, you will make mistakes, and you will grow from them. 

I know that I am here for six months, thus I am not able to change any institutional or societal systems, but I have to learn to persevere through the discomfort and cannot quit just because things are done differently back home. 

Stephane Alexandre: #StudyAbroadBecause more students of color deserve to see the world

Has your experience helped you get to where you are today? 
I am still in Santiago, thus my experience has definitely helped me get to where I am today. By the end of this trip, I will have been to four new countries. One of the greatest strengths of the Tufts in Chile Program is that the directors built in time for students to travel and are helpful every step of the way to make this dream come true. I often feel like I have to travel as much as I can while I am here to be able to bring back more experiences to talk about. Since the semester starts August 1st, there is about a month left at the end of our trip before we go back home. In that time, my friends and I plan to visit Montevideo (Uruguay) and Buenos Aires (Argentina). Not to mention the enthralling fact that we are heading to Machu Picchu next week! Understanding that engaging in a culture is greatly influenced by our travels, our directors helped us select the right classes for our majors to allow us time to study and be abroad. So today I am in Santiago and I don't know where I will be this time next year, but I know that my time here in Chile will help me be more prepared for whatever may come.

What advice would you share with other students who are thinking of going abroad?
One great piece of advice that my supervisor from my work study at Tufts gave me was to invest in myself. In other words, save your money. Traveling is an investment that pays itself over and over again. When you meet new people, taste new foods, immerse yourself in a new culture and way of living, you will not come back home the same person! You will make new connections and approach new projects with an open mind and be more willing to contribute to others. But to be able to do that you have to be willing to invest in yourself.

Additionally, I would suggest bringing a journal (or start a blog) to record your memories and experiences. One great skill that I am constantly perfecting is my writing. I am constantly learning to write succinctly and efficiently. We all experience trips and changes uniquely; in this way, our intake of new places is sometimes the best way to describe ourselves.

My last advice is to, of course, travel. Do it! When I went to Rwanda as part of a genocide education program, I remember a lot of Rwandans could not believe that I was American because I was black. Being Haitian-American does not exempt the fact that many Americans are black and look like me. My perspective when I travel is “what can I learn from this new country and its culture,” but I had never wondered what they could learn from me.

How has international education impacted or influenced your cultural identity?
International travel continues to mold me into a new person. In High School, I managed to raise the funds to travel to China and then Italy, and each of these experiences left me with an insatiable desire to explore more of the world. In college, I immediately knew I wanted to major in International Relations to force myself out of my comfort zone every once in awhile. International education continues to influence my cultural identity. Indisputably, I will always be a Haitian woman but I am learning that I can also be a global citizen, I can always make an effort to be involved in other parts of the world. When people say "it's a small world, after all" I wanted to find out how small. I am constantly exposed to new foods, social norms, and perspectives. I find that it is just as important for me to allow myself to change and to be molded by the novelty of it all. The more I travel, the more I find that people’s perspectives of other countries are flawed. The more I see and explore, the more I want to see and explore. My cultural identity is ever-changing and growing.

Is there anything else you'd like to share with us?
I know I am not the usual candidate for students who study abroad and it is uncomfortable. I’m a black Haitian girl from Mattapan. I went to Boston Latin Academy where I was thoroughly equipped with the skills I would need to thrive at Tufts University. And as a first generation college student, I traveled more than miles to get to Santiago. I want more students who look like me to know the many benefits of studying abroad. I want them to know that there is such a vast, enriching, and enthralling world beyond Europe. I was born in Haiti and lived half of my life ther,e and in Boston there is a thriving Haitian culture and more students might not know the resources available to them. Traveling is both invigorating and it forces you to evolve and form your own opinions about not only your host country, but your home country. And being an American, it is sometimes uncomfortable to see the role that the US plays in many countries’ historical (and recent) struggles. Traveling enables you with the skills you need to work and discuss through that discomfort, to keep an open mind because you’re continuously learning of perspectives that you might not even know existed! How is that not one of the greatest investments of our time!? I know that I am a much stronger person because I travel, and the beautiful aspect of exploring our world is that the more we see, the more we want to see. And too many students of color don’t get the chance to even know that feeling.

#StudyAbroadBecause more students of color deserve to see the world

All photos courtesy and copyright Stephane Alexandre